Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 9, 2007
Red Deer family's love blesses Belize
The extended Dion family helped build a house, feed the elderly, teach school, do repairs – and more
By BILL GLEN
"The kids have said we have to go back because there is so much work to do.
- Robin Janes
In the village that the Dion clan visited - Punta Gorda, a small community in the southern district of Toledo - many people live in huts without power or running water.
They have difficulty getting enough to eat. The elderly are often outcasts and abandoned.
In 2001, Hurricane Iris (category four) tore through southern Belize, destroying or heavily damaging 95 per cent of the buildings.
"Toledo is the poorest district in Belize with about a 79 per cent poverty rate. It isn't the part of Belize that is high on the tourist charts," said Therese, a retired instructor at Red Deer College.
"We were at the point in our lives where we really felt we could give something of ourselves to others less fortunate. And it's been wonderful."
The Dions met the Pallottine sisters when they became involved with the Union of the Catholic Apostolates through Sacred Heart Parish, based on the teachings of St. Vincent Pallotti, founder of the order of priests and nuns.
"My husband and I have been going since 2003. We have spent up to four months there. The convent is called Nazareth and the Pallottine sisters have been there for more than 70 years."
- photo supplied
A community worker serves food to the elderly as part of the ecumenical mission.
Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America. With more than 300,000 people, Belize is predominantly a Christian nation, with Roman Catholicism accepted by about half of the population.
The Pallottines' convent is currently home to five sisters. It contains a retreat centre where Therese holds workshops for lay catechists from the Toledo district. She also travels out to remote areas to conduct workshops on sacramental preparation - Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation and Reconciliation.
Roger can be found busily fixing this or painting that around the convent. They both help with the operation of the retreat centre.
"We literally live and work with the sisters around the clock the whole time we are there," Therese said.
Katherine worked every morning in the village school helping the Grade 6 teacher with any task asked of her.
"She corrected and marked papers. The teacher had her working full-time in the classroom helping the kids. They adored her and they didn't want her to leave," Robin said.
"I wanted to help somebody," said Katherine. "We had heard about them and I thought it was really important to give them a little boost."
This year, they helped a young family build a cinder block house. The mother had died of cancer, leaving behind a husband (Estevan) and their six children. They put in windows, partitions, a door and bunk beds. The government wanted to put the children in an orphanage, but the father fought to keep them.
"He was incredibly grateful," Therese said. "He helped us build with his extended family."
The money also went towards buying food supplies for the locals and providing warm meals for the elderly.
Katherine said she was surprised by how poor the children were, and impressed by their playful attitude. She had a lot of fun and enjoyed meeting the sisters at the convent.
"I made a lot of friends."
While there are some day labour jobs in the larger communities, locals survive mainly by living on small subsistence farms, growing corn and other crops.
All money remaining was left at the convent to help educate Estevan's family and to assist an ecumenical mission called HOPE - Helping Older People Equally.
Therese said they are committed to helping Estevan's family, in particular.
"As long as we can support it and people keep wanting to help us with the project, we are committed," she said.
While Robin found the experience very emotional, she would return in a minute.
"The kids have said we have to go back because there is so much work to do. Maybe next year."
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